Over the last few months, Weehawken homeowner Susan Scherman says she has come across an unidentifiable shiny blue liquid while doing routine cleanings of her rain gutters. She also said she found something that she first thought was animal waste.
However, last July, after coming back from vacation in Europe, she says she found the substance again, as well as the fecal matter that she now believes was human excrement.
“We were in Europe for three weeks and came back June 18,” said Scherman. “[On June 29], I noticed my second floor gutters were clogged.”
As Scherman started scooping out the blockage, she noticed a fowl stench and more shiny blue water.
That is when Scherman started to consider the possibility that this substance may have fallen from the airplanes that fly overhead, and that the substance might be what is known as “blue ice.”
“Blue ice” is the mix of liquid disinfectants that combine with human waste in airplane restrooms. If they are accidentally ejected from the plane, they freeze.
After doing some research into agencies that would address her concerns, Scherman attempted to reach several individuals at the Hudson Regional Health Commission and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services on July 1.
They suggested she reach out to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
On July 1, Scherman began corresponding by email with NJDEP environmental specialists Debra Waller and Michele Potter.
Scherman said she had stored the material in a plastic bag and left it on the porch.
Potter and Waller, neither of whom could be reached for comment last week, both looked into the situation for her, and suggested that the best route would be to get a sample of the blue liquid tested to see what it was, because the fecal bacteria dies rather quickly.
But the tests would have to be at Scherman’s expense.
According to Garden State Laboratories in Hillside, testing for the fecal bacteria and testing the blue water would have cost $45 per test.
However, Scherman said she hesitated to do the testing, because when she spoke to representatives at the Hudson Regional Health Commission, she was led to believe it would cost her hundreds of dollars.
Scherman also tried to reach Senior Environmental Specialist Mark Zuckerman at the DEP, but they kept missing each other’s phone calls.
“She hasn’t spoken to me,” Zuckerman said last week. “I have been trying to get in touch with her and I just get her voicemail. I haven’t been able to reach her.”
Zuckerman said he has been trying to reach Scherman to find out what the problem is, and can’t make any speculation because no investigation has ever been made.
“There has been no investigation yet because I haven’t been able to get a hold of her, [so] there is nothing to comment on,” said Zuckerman. “I need for her to get in touch with me to have access to what she’s talking about.”
Unfortunately, Scherman has since disposed of the sample.
Scherman was reached by Zuckerman last Tuesday. He suggested that the blue substance could have been from a paintball gun.
Scherman was sure it wasn’t,
“I have been a registered nurse for 33 years,” said Scherman. “I know the stench of [human feces] well.”
Still looking for help and some answers, Scherman was also advised by individuals from the NJDEP to contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because they would be responsible for any investigation into plane waste.
Scherman also made a report to the Water North Enforcement, who said they just handle wastewater complaints, and thought it was an FAA or Port Authority problem. The Port Authority runs the area’s three major airports.
“It sounds to me that this is a sanitary health issue – not so much environmental – and falls to the local health department or state health department,” said Darlene Yuhas, spokesperson for the DEP. “This agency does respond to environmental concerns and environmental threats, and oils spills and waterways, but this seems like an isolated incident, [and we would] not really send a response team to investigate.”
She added, “It seems logical that the local health officials would check it out.”
Joe Ehert of the Weehawken Health Department said he had never been contacted about Scherman’s situation, or by others finding blue ice.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said nothing like this has ever come up before in town, but if anyone has any concerns, they can alert Town Hall, and they will put them in contact with the right agency, or have their health inspectors come and take a look.
Out of the FAA’s hands
When Scherman spoke to a representative at the FAA, she was told that if it was blue ice, it was probably caused by a leak in the honey valve of the tank.
However, since she had no approximate time or date of when the suspected drop took place. They could not release the flight logs and identify the plane.
FAA Spokesperson Jim Peters from the regional New York office said there is nothing else that they can do.
“It is driven by resource availability,” said Peters. “When these kinds of things happen, the first culprit that people look at is something that fell from the sky, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that is what happened.”
Other blue ice incidents
But leaks of airplane waste have occurred all over the world.
“It happens occasionally when human waste does clump up because of a leakage in the self contained disposal units in the aircraft,” said Peters. “It’s up to the air carrier to ensure that these kinds of leaks are addressed. Sometimes this stuff happens.”
In cases when it’s reported immediately, the FAA sometimes sends investigators to verify that the substance is from an aircraft, and then tries to identify the aircraft.
“Sometimes we’re successful, and sometimes we’re not,” said Peters.
In a majority of the cases where the FAA has sent out investigators, it’s because the substance has caused damaged to cars or homes.
According to a story published by USA Today in 2003, a man from California won a law suit against American Airlines after blue ice damaged the skylight of his boat. A judge ordered the airline to pay $3,236.
However, in cases like Scherman’s, where there is no physical damage, the FAA claims it could be a number of things from bird droppings to kids playing with paintballs.
“I can’t force the [FAA investigators] to go out,” said Peters. “There is no damage. It’s a question of priorities.”
Hazardous to your health?
The main reason why Scherman wanted to bring attention to the matter is because if it is blue ice, she is concerned about how it could affect her community and her neighbors.
“There are two babies next door. I hope it’s not landing on them,” said Scherman. “I don’t know what is in this blue solution, and as a nurse, I can’t let this go. I took an oath when I graduated nursing school to uphold public safety.”
According to information from AERO Specialties, Inc., who is among the suppliers of the sanitizing solution Potti Power utilized by the airlines, the hazardous ingredients contained in the solution are N-alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC) and N-alkyl dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. The solution contains about less than 5 percent of each component.
Both components are generally found in daily household cleaning products such as bathroom cleaners and toilet bowl cleansers.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, ADBAC is a registered pesticide and is antimicrobial. It is used in agriculture, food handling, commercial, institutional, industrial, residential and public access, medical settings, and may be applied as a wood preservative.
However, despite the fact that both components have only a slight hazardous rating, the product information also stated that effects of overexposure to the material may cause temporary eye or skin irritation if not rinsed or flushed.
Accidental ingestion may also cause nausea or diarrhea, and may also cause irritation to the mouth, throat, and esophagus.
Since the incident, Scherman has written several letters regarding the matter to Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. Robert Menendez, Gov. John Corzine, and the director of the FAA. She also sent out a letter to Rep. Albio Sires, who represents NJ’s 13th district. So far, he was the only one who responded and said would look into the matter.
On the their website, the FAA states that they investigate all such incidents, so if you suspect something came from the sky, please call your local FAA Flight Standard District Office. The number can be found at www.faa.gov/avr/afs/fsdo/index.cfm.
For the local Eastern Regional New York Office, call (718) 553-3330.
“Sometimes this stuff happens.” – Jim Peters